The 4 Ashramas (Stages Of Life)
Traditionally, life of a person was divided into four stages viz. Brahmacharya (childhood and celibate youth), Grithasta (householder) Vanaprastha (householder devoted to spiritual pursuits) and Sanyasa (ascetic). Sanyasa has been extolled as the culmination of an ideal life. The external signs of a person on becoming a Sanyasi were the unshorn hair and beard, the growth of fingernails, the forsaking of normal ablutions.
A Sanyasi was supposed to rise above the requirements of normal material life and devoted himself to the seeking of truth Society among the Hindus has been divided into four Varnas Brahmin (clergy), Kshatriya (nobility), Vaishya (traders and cultivators) and Shudra (menials). This division is a social issue that was given religious sanctity. Belief in rebirth (Punar-janma) and release from the cycle of birth and re-birth (Moksha) have been central to Hindu morality.
The Parshurama Temple and the Pushkara or "Lotus Pond" which is in its precincts. Every Hindu temple has a pond near it. Devotees are supposed to take a bath before
entering the temple.
Another tradition that has been nurtured in Hinduism is that of the Guru. A Guru is supposed to play the role of a tutor and mentor. But among the Hindus, the Guru, has traditionally been considered to be more than just a tutor. Surprisingly in one Vedic hymn even Gods are referred to as Guru. (Gurur Brahma, Gurur Vishnuhu, Gururu Devoho, Maheshwaraha: Guru Sakshat Para Brahma, Tasmayee Shri Gurveh Namaha.)
Education, in India has been traditionally imparted through Gurukulas (homestead of a ,Guru). A student (Shishya) had to spend his early years at a Gurukula where he was taught all the known disciplines of knowledge. But the term Guru has also had the connotations of a spiritual guide. The term Shishya could be taken to mean both student and disciple. It has not been uncommon for a person with a spiritual bent of mind to go in search of a Guru. All spiritual personalities among the Hindus such as Swami Vivekananda, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Swami Ramkrishna Paramhansa, etc., who attained the status of Gurus were once shishyas of some Guru. The Guru-Shishya tradition has had manifestations in innumerable Babas, Swamis and Gurus that are a part of our society, so much so that eight out of ten Indians would be followers of one Guru or another.
Throughout our history, spiritual leaders and social reforms be looked upon as Gurus. In the absence of a founding father for Hinduism, these Gurus have played the role of guiding this conglomorate of beliefs (Hinduism) through the ages of history. In this context the role of Adi Shankaracharya has to be recalled.